Thursday, January 16, 2014

“It’s the Right Thing to Do” - Polish Righteous Among the Nations Honored

(From left to right) Amy Lakritz, Anna Wolyniec,
Bronislawa Skoczylas, Jay Lakritz and Sheldon Haber
in the Hall of Remembrance following the ceremony
In a touching ceremony on Thursday, January 16, 2014 Yad Vashem held an event posthumously honoring Maria Zurawska as Righteous Among the Nations. The medal and certificate of honor were accepted by her daughter Bronislawa Skoczylas who arrived from Poland to attend the ceremony. Family members of the late Righteous Among the Nations Maria Zurawska from Poland and descendants of Julia Lakritz z’’l, the Holocaust survivor she rescued, from the United States gathered for an emotional celebration of the special life of a woman whose rescue of an entire family, under extraordinary risk to herself and her family, was befitting of this special recognition.
Cantor Yonatan Hainowitz recites Psalms during the memorial ceremony
in the Hall of Remembrance
The event began with a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and continued on to the recognition event. During the ceremony, Anna Wolyniec, the grandaughter of Righteous Among the Nations Maria Zurawska spoke from the heart evoking the memory of her grandmother and the sacrifices she made in protecting the Jewish women from persecution and certain death. In the summer of 1943, Helen Haber (nee Scheps) was warned by a labor camp guard of the upcoming liquidation of the camp in which she was imprisoned. Helen managed to escape and join her mother Gittel and her daughter Julia Haber (later Lakritz) who had fled to the forests. Julia was just 5 years old, very sick and her body was covered with sores. Desperate and ill, the three reached the house of Maria Zurawska in the summer of 1943.
(From left to right) Amy Lakritz, Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek
Hodorowicz, Bronislawa Skoczylas, Anna Wolyniec and members of the
two families
The next to offer words at the ceremony was Amy Lakritz, daughter of Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz z’’l, who spoke about her mother and grandmother and the continuation of the connection between the two families, binded by “the kindness of one woman (Maria Zurawska) who is very much a Righteous Among the Nations.” When the Haber women arrived at her house, Maria had just been widowed only a year earlier after her husband Josef was killed along with four Jews who he had sheltered. Despite this, and despite remaining alone with five children, Maria agreed to hide the three Jewish fugitives in the bunker which had been made specifically by her husband to hide Jews. Maria looked after the young Julia with devotion and love, until she regained her strength.
(From left to right) Granddaughter Anna Wolyniec and daughter Bronislawa
Skoczylas accept the medal of honor and certificate on behalf of Righteous
Among the Nations Maria Zurawska presented by Dr. Ehud Loeb and David
Falkowicz, members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous
Among the Nations
Amy Lakritz, daughter of the late Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz z''l 
embraces Bronislawa Skoczylas, daughter of Righteous Among the
Nations Maria Zurawska
The last person to address the event was Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Hodorowicz who remarked that while each individual Righteous story is in its own right unique, this one in particular stood out for him concerning the level of Maria’s self-sacrifice. One day, the Germans came to Maria's house looking for hidden Jewish people. Without missing a beat, Maria calmly explained to them that the Jews were at the end of the street and persuaded them to leave. Immediately afterwards, Maria left her home with her children and the three hidden Jews in a horse and buggy. Together they moved to the village of Koltow, where Maria's parents lived and remained there until the summer of 1944 when the area was liberated. After the war, the Jewish survivors left Poland and traveled west where they settled in the Domincian Republic and later in the United States. They asked Maria to join them but she opted to stay with her ​​family in Poland. Over the years, the Lakritz family and Maria kept in touch by exchanging letters until her death in 1996.
(Front row from left to right) Jay Lakritz, Bronislawa Skoczylas, Amy Lakritz,
Sheldon Haber. (Back row from left to right): First three: Grandaughter and
great-grandaughters of Righteous Among the Nations Maria Zurawska
and family members and descendants of Julia Lakritz z''l
The event took place in the presence of H.E. Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Hodorowicz, Jay and Amy Lakritz, the children of the late Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz who came from the U.S., Sheldon Haber, brother of the late Holocaust survivor, grandaughter and two great-granddaughters of the Righteous Among the Nations from Poland, Holocaust survivors, Members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, family members and friends. The medal of honor and certificate were presented by Dr. Ehud Loeb and David Falkowicz, members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, and the Director of the Department of the Righetous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem Irena Steinfeldt.

In a video testimony screened for the families at the conclusion of the event, Holocaust survivor Julia Lakritz who passed away in 2006 was shown describing Maria Zurawska’s direct and heartfelt response when asked why she came to the aid of the Haber family during the Shoah: “It’s the right thing to do.”


On October 16, 2013, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations of Yad Vashem decided to recognize Maria Zurawska as a Righteous Among the Nations.



For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations please visit the Yad Vashem website: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/

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